Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The underlying theme of The Elizabethan Trilogy is that human life is a game, often a dangerous and even deadly one, and that all existence is but a show, a pattern of image and illusion. Sir Walter Ralegh dies not for what he actually conspires to accomplish but for what others might impute to him. Christopher Marlowe is murdered perhaps because he seeks to flee to Scotland, perhaps because he refuses to take that course of action. He may have been killed because he was spying on the English Catholics or because he was secretly one of them.

The point of the trilogy is perhaps that one can never know what really happens in this world; even the figures behind the scenes who seem to control the action do not know. In one of the most effective passages of the trilogy, Captain Barfoot is brought to confront Walter Ralegh and learns that the eminent courtier has been his employer in the investigation of Marlow’s death. Barfoot presents his evidence, gives his contradictory conclusions and ends by admitting that he simply does not know why or even how Marlowe was killed. Ralegh accepts this, for such is the way of the world. It cannot be understood, only accepted as it is and endured as it must be.

The second point is that the world, especially the world of Elizabethan and Jacobean England, is created through language. Human beings are creatures who communicate and control one another through the use of the word, whether spoken or written. Sir...

(The entire section is 421 words.)